Q: I tried to make the caramel sauce for flan in the microwave, but it came out really bitter. Is it possible to do? Why did the microwave make it bitter?
Answer: Burnt sugar gets bitter, whether it’s burnt in the microwave or any other way. Your microwave heated the sauce so fast, the sugar started to break down into smaller pieces. Those are the bitter chemicals.
I’ve not tried to caramelize sugar in the microwave myself, and as I looked at various directions online, I found two hints that seem to be the most important. One was to start with a little bit of water, a quarter to half a cup, mixed with the sugar. Water heats faster than dry sugar does, but it also evaporates and cools the mixture just a little. It will also help even out hot spots in the bowl of sugar.
The other hint, which is mostly aimed at preventing the burning and bitterness, is to have a second slightly warmed plate or pan ready and waiting. This is the one you’ll make the flan in. Then, just as the caramel is reaching the color you want, or a split second before, take it out of the microwave and transfer it into the cooler dish or pan. This will get the sugar away from the heat of the dish you cooked it in and cool it more quickly. If you just take it out of the microwave and set it aside, the heat of the dish will continue to cook the sugar, and cause the bitterness.
You don’t want the dish it’s going into to be completely cold. Melted sugar is hot and could crack a glass or ceramic dish. But you do want it to be cool so it can stop the cooking of the sugar. Unfortunately, that means you won’t be able to make the caramel in the same pan you’ll make the flan in.
Q: I put some frozen cooked turkey out to thaw and forgot it. It was out for well over three hours, and completely soft and warm to the touch when I found it. I did throw it out, but am wondering if there is any way I could tell if it were still safe? I admit I tasted a little bit yesterday before I pitched it, and I am still feeling fine today.
Answer: There’s no way to tell in a short time, and the fact that you’re still feeling OK today doesn’t mean you’ll be feeling the same tomorrow. I hope you are, but there’s no guarantee!
Most of the bacteria that make us sick do not create obvious signs of their presence. So we can’t tell by color, feel or even taste. When we do notice that meat is slimy, or the color is funny, the change is often created by other microorganisms living alongside the bad ones. There are lab procedures and test kits, but even they often take more than an hour. And they’re too expensive for home use. As for the timing, some types of food poisoning do hit us quickly, within a half-hour or so. These are the kinds that produce toxins as they grow.
When we eat the food with the toxins, they’re ready to attack immediately. But the majority have to grow inside us before we feel their effect. That could take days, or in a few cases as long as six weeks. So you might not feel the effects until much later.
These slow-growing toxins are also the ones that will stick with us longer. When we eat the toxins, we usually manage to get rid of them (out both ends) fairly quickly. In a day or so, we feel weak but much better. The ones that grow in us could keep us under the weather for a week, or send us to the hospital. It’s much, much safer and cheaper to give the turkey up as a loss and pitch it directly!
Mary A. Keith, a licensed dietitian and health agent at Hillsborough County Extension, can be reached at [email protected]